How it feels to live with RA

A few months ago I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. It all started off with my neck feeling stiff over last August; the lymph nodes were swollen, and all I thought was that perhaps my ballet training got a bit too intense over the last few sessions. The skin in my hands started cracking for no reason, and what followed next was my left hand feeling stiff. All I did was blaming it on yoga, and perhaps on a skin fungus that happens to many people in Hong Kong once the weather cools off.

On the night of the HKELD Awards in September, my Inherit the Wind cast and I were out celebrating the four awards won by Aurora Theatre; a drink after another, a clumsy dance and I found myself on the dance floor in a very ungraceful manner. The day after my body felt awful, well expectedly after such fall. As my hand felt horrible, I knew that that fall had probably made things worse.

Fast forward to two months later; my hand didn’t get any better. I decided to see a chiropractor who slightly improved my condition during our sessions, but the effect didn’t last for too long. Pain spread on my upper arms and my other hand for no particular reason; I knew right then that the fall had nothing to do with what I had and that something was wrong.

 

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One always knows. I have lived in my body long enough, despite people telling me I shouldn’t read too much crap on Google medical websites and that I’m a hypochondriac by nature. I think that listening to your body is always the best thing, regardless on what everyone thinks.

Pain interrupted my sleep; I started waking up in the middle of the night feeling horrendous. I had to get up and walk just to activate the muscles, but as soon as I returned to bed, the pain manifested itself a few hours later, not to mention that it took me forever to fall asleep again just for a short while.

Going to bed became the most dreaded moment, as sleep was always interrupted by pain. A few days later I literally couldn’t take it anymore. I went to see a doctor who referred me to a rheumatologist. I left the clinic in tears; why on earth would I need a rheumatologist? What the hell was wrong with me? Why would someone in her mid-thirties, reasonably healthy, vegetarian and physically active need to see a specialist for something that sounded really scary?

The rheumatologist gave me an ultrasound that showed a lot of inflammation all over my upper limbs; I could barely open my right hand for the examination from the pain I had. The diagnosis was more complicated than I thought and the doctor could not give me a straight answer.
It felt like being in an episode of Doctor House, where I got tested for lupus, as well as lung cancer (the results came five days later, which is a long time to think) and various autoimmune diseases (I’m still testing btw). I got put on steroids for a short while, I took blood tests (five in two weeks to be exact), had an MRI, a CT scan, and several X-Rays. Too bad I didn’t have Dr House with me, I would have utterly enjoyed that. On top of that, I have also tried acupuncture, but I hated every single second of it. It might help some people, but I could find no relief in it.

 

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Ultimately the diagnose was double: rheumatoid arthritis (which attacks the joints) and derma-myositis (which hits the muscles and the skin). They are both autoimmune, they are both awful, painful, and are caused by my body that, all of a sudden, has decided to kill me.

For months I could not do anything: I couldn’t lift chairs. I couldn’t raise my cat. I couldn’t get dressed in the morning; my husband had to do it for me. Washing my hair was hard, opening jars or taps was virtually impossible. I craved to feel myself again, to be back to normal, but I had no idea how long it would take me and if it could happen again at all.

Treatment came a couple of months later, and I started directing The Crucible while experiencing all this pain. I could not drop a bomb on the cast. None of them had any idea how bad it was, and only two productions member knew about the cancer scare (for practical reasons, mainly: if I had to undergo chemo, someone would have to replace me, but luckily we didn’t have that problem). When I first mentioned arthritis, my cast knew I was experiencing physical difficulties, but I reassured all of them that my problem was taken care of. Not looking sick helped in that way, as my pain was all inside, and didn’t show outside; I could disguise myself as fine.

Directing The Crucible was what kept me together. I couldn’t let the cast and the production team down; they didn’t know, and yet they were the ones holding me together when things felt dreadful. Them, together with ballet. I still believe, for some silly reason, that I can dance my way out of RA. Ballet has kept me active, motivated, focused when those awful dark moods (mostly because of lack of sleep) stricken in. When reading about life expectancy being reduced by at least 15 years, I just put on my dancing shoes and avoid thinking about it. Or I read a new play.

 

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As I have experienced this excruciating pain, my thought went out to those who suffer for any physical reason. I felt bad for being such a wimp when I knew that my friends who faced cancer dealt with much worse and realised the importance of listening to our body when it’s trying to tell us something. Hear no other voices: no one has the right to say “you’re fine, it’s nothing” when clearly things aren’t.

 

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A few months later, now that The Crucible is done and that we are starting working on another project, I can feel almost normal again; I am under heavy medication, but the doctor is positive that things can be improved. If you experience pain, speak out. Don’t ever think pain is normal just to avoid going to the doctor, or to avoid spending money- we owe kindness to ourselves.

Eleven years later….

Three careers ( design, theatre, education); 

One marriage;

One divorce;

Another marriage;

A theatre company (created);

An online publication (inherited);

Countless theatre productions (acted on);

Nine theatre productions (directed);

Twenty theatre productions (produced) ;

One master degree;

Countless friendships made;

A few friendship broken (maybe they weren’t friendships after all);

Hundred thousand lessons learned; 

A few lessons that have yet to be learned;

Two cats; 

Two theatre awards;

Still no house bought; 

Several articles published;

Countless places around the world visited;

Ups and downs but overall ups. 

Eleven years ago I packed a small suitcase, left my beloved and yet stale Sydney (I only lived there for a year and few months) and headed to Hong Kong for a fashion design internship that was supposed to last for less than a year. 

Little I knew that what was waiting for me was going to be a roller coaster of people, facts, events and emotions. 
More can, and must,  be done. Let’s keep going.  

 Happy eleventh year Hong Kong anniversary to me. 

  

The importance of writing a diary.

I used to keep a diary.

As an (angry) teenager, it was my own private confessor. I also thought that keeping a diary was a good way to preserve memories for posterity, and perhaps some day I would surely have entertained someone, or myself, with the events, people, and facts I wrote about. I use to write on my diary religiously, regardless of whether something interesting happened or not. I had so much drama in my life that for a reason or another my pages were always filled up and they were never empty. Now that I look back, I think I kinda liked it that way, as it was surely entertaining (not sure whether this was a good thing, but it’s too late to regret it now).

I wrote several diaries all throughout my teenage, my years at university and much after that.When blogging became a trend, before social medias, I create one of my own and I used my blog as my personal therapist (keeping it slightly filtered as I could not publicly insult certain people- even though I very much wished to do so). I kept writing on the same blog after leaving university whilst in other countries like Australia first and then Hong Kong. I am not exactly sure what happened, but I simply stopped keeping a journal. I highly regret that now.

Two weeks ago I went home back to Italy. My room has remained exactly as I left it as my mother utterly refused to change anything in there; it became a sort of shrine for her.
Pictures with my long-haired friends from high school are still hanging all over the walls (those friends are still in the picture. Their long, voluptuous hair are not), together with the posters of Nirvana, the theatre memorabilia that I collected in my acting days (those days still exist but it was different back then) and few of my knick-knacks as a grunge/punk rock/alternative girl.
The drawer that contained pictures, letters and diaries is still there and it’s still full of memories from the past. I look at them from time to time as they have the power to take me back to certain days.
As the days went by in this sunny and expectation-free holiday, I spent my time chilling by the beach and riding my bike as I used to, as well as seeing old friends.
As we started talking and chatting of present and past events we inevitably ended up listing those people we used to hang out with when we were PRs for a local rock club. Believe it or not, Italy is a massive rock nation and our youth was spent listening to music, playing it and hanging out at the local record store. Our conversations evolved about songs, records or forming a band. Sometimes we chatted about boys we fancied and every single one of them was part of a rock band.
Our group of PRs for this club was one big (at times incestuous) family where we all believed what we worked on and we tried to make the place successful. After all, we were paid to be there.

After chatting with my friends for several evenings about how these people evolved in the past decade, I realized I did not have a very clear picture of those long gone days, and that the best thing I could do to picture those years was taking out one of my diaries and clear my mind.
The diary I’m talking about is dated 1999. A while back.

Reading a diary after so long is like being on acid, except that you are high on your own story. It felt like flying back on a DeLorean after being hibernated for years. The things that I, back in those days, have written in that diary, came as faint memories; I felt I was discovering things for the first time with the exception that I wrote all those stuff.

From the music we listened to and made, the friends I spent time with, the things we said and did, to the guy I fancied at that time.

He populated a big part of those pages with what he said or did. Despite the fact he was no Eddie Redmayne I found something special about him, something that very few people could see. I considered myself lucky for being able to see such side of him.

Our “relationship” was rather tumultuous as my behavior, back in the days, was not quite smooth; it was more rock’n’roll to tell people to F off, so I just followed that pattern of behavior. One moment I was kissing him, the other moment I was telling him to get lost. It is fair to say that the guy in question, despite charming, was quite full of himself, but I deep down wished I wasn’t so damn insecure and that I could handle the whole thing better.
My diary made me think a lot about me, how I grew throughout the years and how much I lost touch with myself; I could not remember how insecure I was, how many people took advantage of that insecurity, my inability to recognize genuine friends from the fake ones. I cannot help but wish I could jump on the teenage version of myself and inject the confidence that I have now. I would slap the younger version of myself and tell her to get a f……. grip.

The discovery of my diary was the highlight of my Italian holiday. I felt like shifting between two worlds.

In the event of memory loss, I would have a backup all written down. The experience was highly entertaining for my friends too, as I have shared my memories with those people who were involved with me in 1999. It was a blast from the past for them too and I felt like we shared a great moment together that brought us close again. Do yourself a favour and keep a diary, a real one. And no, your diary on FB won’t do.

Opportunity

This video speaks louder than anything else. 

It made me think of all the things that could go horribly wrong and, because of negativity or dark thoughts, how many potential opportunities get lost in oblivion. 

It is easy to be heavy, but it’s hard to be light. 

When I first saw this video, the word opportunity has been buzzing constantly in my head ever since. 

So very true. When life gives you lemons, make lemon meringue pies (lemonade’s too boring). 

The video was shared by my friend and life coach Angela Douglas. 

Check out her page for more inspirational and motivational content. 

Is Hong Kong a cultural desert?

We all know that Hong Kong is the capital of business and the headquarter of the corporate world. It is common to hear that there is no creativity here and that anything artistic comes from abroad, particularly from the UK or the US; yet, what happens when not everybody has the ambition to become a lawyer or a banker but would rather express oneself in a more artistic or creative way?

When it comes to the performing arts, locals and foreigners get really excited at the sheer mentioning of theatrical companies across the globe making an appearance in town with big musicals and famous sellouts, but are these people aware that the same thing happens regularly and often just a few miles away?

I first came over to Hong Kong about 10 years ago (from Australia and, before that, from Europe); a local artistic theatrical scene existed back then, and a few groups were out there to make a contribution towards Hong Kong lack of local cultural events. These groups became a source of great inspirations for other artists who followed the same steps and created other artistic opportunities; most of the people we see involved in these scenes are both locally and internationally born and raised, yet all based in Hong Kong. The Third Culture Kids are in this together when it comes to contributing to the local artistic scene, making it more and more vibrant every day.  And why not? We love Hong Kong for its diversity and differences; we should aim for artistic opportunities that reflect our lifestyle and be proud of that. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to make our town believable and solid in terms of arts, but this is definitely the right path to follow; from there, it can only develop.

The month of June opened up with several theatrical English productions, as well as musical; back in the days, it would be incredibly hard to see such diversity of locally produced theatre in town. Having a little taste of Europe or America when the occasion comes is great, but let’s not forget to support local theatre happening just a few feet away from us. There are a lot of local events and talents that need our support; after all, no one likes to live in a cultural desert.

The importance of being able to W-R-I-T-E

Alright, this is not good. I am reopening this blog after a year. You hear me?? A year.

It’s not because much hasn’t happened in the meantime- uhm, quite the opposite- but I have procrastinated and have not treated this blog as a priority. What’s the point of having a blog then if one doesn’t treat it as a priority? Exactly.

We are always busy these days, we are  on the run, we have myriads of tasks to accomplish, places to be, people to meet and lists to check and yet sometimes we don’t know where our time goes. We say we don’t exercise enough, or don’t read enough or we don’t have time for a proper sit-down meal, but are we aware where time goes and how we manage it? We tend to justify everything with one word: busy. We are busy and that’s that.  Enough to clarify any situation or to answer any question. “I can’t do that/meet you/do something that takes 5 minutes of my time because I am busy. ”

People seem ok these days with that word, yet it’d be fun (and probably more interesting) if people simply started answering back:

“You are busy with what, exactly?”

That might put a halt on what is highly accepted these days and perhaps people might be a bit more considerate of others, as well as themselves.

As I realised I used the word “busy” more to cut conversations short than anything else, I decided I no longer wanted to be that person and that I wanted to be aware of where my time went. So I treated myself to a nice old-style paper weekly planner, and that’s where I write down everything (yes, including eyebrows trimming and paying bills. Why? Because I know it has to be done but if I fail to put it down visually I will forget to do it. It’s ok for the brows, but I don’t want to be cut off  on my electricity bill because I might forget about it).

It works beautifully. I have everything under control. I can actually relax with a book, schedule time for yoga and ballet classes, and accomplish work and tasks on time. Lists are nagging, but oh! the pleasure I get once they are done and I no longer have to worry about it. Highly recommended to anyone.

As in for me about not blogging, let’s face it: I did have time to blog- I just chose not to (let’s admit it…..I’m a lazy arse sometimes……)

 

 

Eight plays challenge

I am sharing the best plays I have ever read/staged/acted in.

What would your picks be?

Here are mines:

The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot (S. A. Guirgis)

Well, well, well. Those who follow Aurora Theatre will know that this is a very biased choice, but I just can’t help it!

The play is set in a corner of Purgatory where a desperate lawyer presents the case of Judas Iscariot to a courtroom. Several personalities from history (Mother Teresa, Sigmund Freud) as well as the Bible (Pontius Pilate, Satan and the various saints and apostles) step in to testify for or against Judas. The whole story is darkly comic and edgy, reexamining the fate of the ultimate sinner.

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Glengarry Glen Ross (D. Mamet)

The brutal truth behind a long day at the office, where shark-like salesmen are willing to engage in any act (ethical or not) in order to Always Be Closing. Comedic, rough and awfully truthful.

Private Lives (N. Coward)

Can’t live together, can’t live apart. A broad view of a stormy relationship between two former spouses who realize they still have feelings for each other whilst honeymooning with their present partners. A reflective and yet hilarious comedy set in the jazz era, spiced up by the Charleston and Fox-trot.

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The Glass Menagerie (T. Williams)

A former southern beauty lives in poverty with her two grown-up children who everyday have to bear her irritating nagging. Her world of illusion soon collapses, drifting the little that she has left of her family away. An auto-biographical piece by Tennessee Williams, who provides a perfect picture of America in the 1940’s.

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The Importance of Being Earnest (O. Wilde)

Written by the king of wit, The Importance of Being Earnest describes, in a farcical and comedic way, the unwillingness of its character to obey social norms. The whole story unravels in a comedy of errors leaving the characters moved like pawns by events and fate.

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Arcadia (T. Stoppard)

A wonderful story where order and disorder intertwine together, interlocking characters from the past with those from the present; witty, heartfelt and beautifully written. A fine, fine piece of contemporary theatre.

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Inherit The Wind (Lawrence and Lee)

A highly engaging piece narrating the biggest debate in society: creationism versus evolution. A charming attorney finds himself in a small town in a southern state of America to defend a teacher jailed for preaching Darwinism. A strong trial follows shortly after, questioning whether religion weighs more than the right to think.

Twelve Angry Men (R. Rose)

A jury of twelve men in America is considering a murder case. They all agree that the defendant is guilty, except for one juror who, throughout the play, leads the group towards a debate about race, the expectations of the society they live in and the troubled relationship that a father can experience between himself and his son.

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Hong Kong students and drama in the local curriculum

This is an article that I have written for the South China Morning Post, a local English-written Hong Kong newspaper: check it out and share your thoughts.

http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1729229/why-hong-kong-students-need-more-drama-their-lives

Through this we are also advertising our current production Thinner Than Water- what can I say? We seriously multitask here…..